Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Mets, The Red Sox And The September Collapse

Twenty-five years ago, the Red Sox and Mets faced off in one of the most memorable World Series in history - 1986, Bill Buckner, you know the rest.  From a Boston fan perspective, Game 6 may be the lowest moment in Red Sox history.  Of course, Game 7 is one of the best in Mets history, and maybe the last great moment of the last 25 years.  For most Mets fans, that is the only championship in their lifetime, and for younger fans, those cocaine fueled teams represent a mythical time when the Mets were unbeatable.  That year, 1986, was the last time the Mets were truly unbeatable.

Of course, the Mets have been eminently beatable ever since.  Losing season after losing season, disaster after disaster reaching a nadir in 2007, when the Mets set a record for ineptitude by blowing a seven game division lead in a matter of days.  Tom Glavine stepped to the mound on the last day of the season, needing to pitch the Mets into the playoffs, and promptly surrendered seven runs to a Marlins team looking to play spoiler.  The season ended, and the Mets have never recovered.

Up in Boston, the Sox are on the verge of their own history.  This team came into the season with sky high expectations - read this delightful Boston Globe article for confirmation. The money quote?

"The Red Sox have won 100 or more games three times in their 110-year existence.

They will make it four in 2011."

The Red Sox, by the way, will not be winning 100 games this season.  They will be lucky to crack 90 at the rate they've been playing.  This is not in the way of gloating - fans of New York's "other" team often find their rooting interest aligned with that team up in Boston.  We both hate the Yankees, and in the end, that's all that matters.  But the Red Sox entered September with nine game lead over the third place Tampa Bay Rays, and are doing everything in their power to cough it up.

The Sox are looking to steal the mantle of "worst September collapse" from the Mets.  Ignominious history for certain, and a trophy the Mets would love to remove from their trophy case.  But is their collapse actually worse than the Mets in 2007?  Let's reopen some wounds.

First of all, this Red Sox team came into the year with sky high expectations, but still had to contend with the Yankees in front of them.  The 2007 Mets, remember, were fired up by Jimmy Rollins' comments that his Phillies were the team to beat that year, in spite of the fact that the Mets were defending NL East champs.  Rollins was right in retrospect, and even at the time it seemed like the Phils were more likely to contend.  These Red Sox were coming off a third-place finish last year, a Division Series sweet the year before, and a tough ALCS loss the year before that.  They have two World Series championships this year, but the Yankees have the more recent ring and have owned the division over the last decade, at least during the regular season.

Second, this Red Sox team has been decimated by injuries.  Talent-wise, they probably top the league.  Health-wise, they have had almost every one of their stars miss time, and have seen significant chunks of time lost from almost all of their starters.  The 2007 Mets had their injuries for certain, but they got 160 games out of David Wright and Jose Reyes, and 27+ starts from four of their five starting pitchers. This was a surprisingly durable team that also got the second half of the season from a red-hot Moises Alou, and a terrific season from the oft-injured Carlos Beltran.

Finally, this Red Sox team has played a fairly difficult schedule.  The Rays team that has been creeping up on them is very good, and even though the Red Sox have owned the Yankees this year - they lead the season series 11-4 at the moment, with three more games left to play next week - they still provide a challenge.  Even the perennial also-ran Blue Jays boast the best current hitter in baseball, Jose Bautista, and will finish over .500.  The 2007 Mets face off against the Nationals and Marlins 18 times each, and those two teams combined to lose 190 games.  A rare non-contending year from the Braves meant the Mets could only get beat by the Phillies - or themselves.

We all know the punchline - David Wright had his best month of the season but the rest of the Mets went into free fall.  The Red Sox still have a good chance to back into the playoffs, but they shouldn't feel good about their chances of contending this year if they do make it.  And Mets fans can root for 2007 to get erased from the history books - it's about all we've got left to root for this year.

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